A stylish intro smacking of an animated Aztec codex relates the history of the eponymous civilizations: they’ve inherited the world from a previous society that collapsed after nuking itself into oblivion. Elders in each of the three present civilizations have borne witness to a sign in the stars that tells them it’s time to find and lay claim to that ancient destructive power before competing civilizations get to it. Apparently eager to see history repeat itself in grand fashion, each civilization marshals tons of pint-sized minions for what might be the cutest little continental invasion ever to grace the iOS.
A New Game charges the player with commanding an Aztec-inspired civilization’s army by default; Roman-inspired and Chinese-inspired civilization campaigns become accessible midway through the first playthrough. Upon starting a battle the player finds that his or her troops are holed up in a few buildings that have upward-ticking population counters. The same holds true for one (or more) opposing armies on the battle screen. The player’s aim is intuitively clear: swamp the opposition’s population of soldiers with one’s own, rushing to claim neutral buildings and capture the enemy’s, literally smothering the capacity of competing civilizations to wage war. Diplomacy simply ain’t in the cards here.
A simple swiping motion from a player-occupied building toward an enemy-held building causes tiny soldiers to issue forth, squeaking in their native language as they dutifully march to conquer the assigned structure. Whether they’re successful depends on each civilization’s offensive and defensive stats as well as the number of troops sent to attack and assigned to defend a contested building. The player quickly learns to set up impressive multi-pronged offenses by swiping over more than one building in his or her territory before ending the motion on an enemy fortification. Strategic troop transfers are accomplished by directing troops to player-held buildings. Since Civilizations Wars is a Real-Time Strategy game, player and enemy decisions happen on-the-fly and the player’s attention is devoted to shifting around his or her soldier population as the battle develops second by second.
The touch interface makes this version of Civilizations Wars even easier to pick up and play than its mouse-controlled Flash predecessor, and the player will be ordering impressive tactical assaults in no time. Learning the finer points of gameplay is a longer process, and they’re introduced gradually in a satisfying ramping up of complexity as the player moves from one battle to the next. Certain types of buildings offer great strategic value: archers’ towers auto-attack enemy squads on the move, while crystal-bearing shrines build up supernatural energy the player can unleash in a variety of population-clearing spells. However, these tactical structures aren’t suitable for, err, reproduction, so their counters are stagnant and require manual reinforcement in the form of troop transfers from population centers.
Later battles pit all three civilizations – and even neutral parties – in multi-front conflicts, and the most formidable encounters even toss giant (not to mention, unfriendly) creatures into the mix. These boss battlefields are incredibly tricky because the monster that’s wandered into the area is set to go berserk once a timer expires, wiping the battlefield clean of humans in short order. These cases demand creative strategies and are especially taxing on the player’s reflexes and thinking cap.
A typical run through the game should last a good four to six hours over at least 30 battlefields, and these can occasionally be tackled out of order thanks to a branching path on the campaign map. Battles can also be replayed at any time with handicaps in place to increase difficulty and post-battle rewards.